Last week I taught a class about marketing. Several students said that they wanted to learn about marketing so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to put a lesson together to talk marketing strategies and ideas. I taught my class about different marketing strategies and showed several ad campaigns that showcased the different ad techniques. These ads ranged from posters to videos from Nike, Barbie, McDonald’s, etc. Afterwards, we had each company come up and share which marketing technique – from Guerrilla to Social media to Word of mouth advertising – would work best for them.

The class loved it. They claimed it was the best class I had ever taught. They said they had fun and wanted more classes like this one. The teacher of record Mr. Hooper agreed. He said that it was the best class and more should follow.

Yet even after all this praise, I was still at a crossroads. I hated the class I had just taught. The class that I taught was enjoyable because it was an interactive lesson that showcased funny ads and had a presentation based element and kids got involved. Yay student participation! But this class was in conflict with why I had started. I started this class with the goal of being the first ever class that creates students who are builders, not learners. The idea that every single student creates a for-profit or nonprofit business in one semester is not found in any classroom – not in public high school, not in private high school, not at Princeton University.

Students like what makes sense to them and the class about marketing makes sense to them. It is easy to understand and get behind. They watched a few videos, they got up and talked for a bit, and got 5 points in the grade book if they spoke in complete sentences. Yay traditional classroom education! But this kind of class does not foster the unique learning opportunity that I am trying to bring to my school.

Then I took the weekend and thought some more. I received a text from someone in the class who recommended that I teach more classes like the one about marketing. He said “Let’s not do any more essays. Let’s have it be smaller project based. Like marketing project – it will make the class more interesting and the projects could actually help the startups.” Everything in that text is all well and good, except for the last part: it could help the startups. While helping is something I strive to do every day as the teacher, the marketing class was an hour of video watching cloaked in a class loosely based on the reality of marketing. The best way to teach word of mouth marketing isn’t by telling people that “word of mouth marketing is when your content’s lead form of marketing comes from people talking about your brand.” Anyone with half a brain can figure that out. Everyone with half a brain can also look at clever ad campaigns online.

What not everyone can do and what people need help with is creating and building things that impact the community – and that comes from hands on creation, not watching funny videos.

Sure, there must be a happy medium that I am not quite hitting that satisfies both the student’s appetite for fun while also allows them to build. But adopting the marketing class as a way to teach future lessons will only lead you to the mediocre, the already been taught before, the been there done that. For actual groundbreaking work, teachers have to embrace uncomfortable students, we all have to be a little bit lost first.

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